Sweet cravings are often a learned response to stress

How to Control Sweet Cravings with New Coping Skills

This post was written as a guest blog for SplendaLiving.com. You can read the original post here.

I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

The connection between certain foods and our emotions can be very strong. I know having carrot cake with cream cheese frosting puts the “happy” in my happy birthday celebration, but it isn’t the only way to put a smile on my face. Yet many of my clients have told me they find it difficult to cope with the ups and downs of everyday life without turning to sweet treats to lift their spirits.

If you’ve ever eaten your way through a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies to help you deal with a difficult situation, you know what I’m talking about. Whether it’s an overwhelming project at work or an extended to-do list at home, using food to “feed” your emotions can become an unhealthy habit.

The desire to eat sweets can feel so strong to some people they call it a craving. But is it really a food craving or just a long-used coping mechanism?

I’ve written about the power of perceived food cravings before. Their connection to coping mechanisms is very strong. Simply put, if we have always relied on certain foods to help us get through tough times we can feel very deprived without those foods – but that isn’t a craving. It is a learned way to cope. Unfortunately, the pleasure of eating a favorite food is short-lived, while the excess calories that go with those foods can last forever. And eating doesn’t solve the problem at hand.

What you need if you’ve become conditioned to think of food as the fix for everything that hurts are new coping skills. The goal is to learn how to deal with whatever comes your way so you can feel good about yourself for handling the task rather than giving in to sweet cravings to feel good. The more you practice these skills, the less you’ll rely on food rewards for your happiness. You’ll soon discover that nothing tastes as sweet as success!

Coping Without All the Calories

  • Have a backup plan.You need a new strategy that can be implemented in a moment’s notice to replace reaching for a treat. An easy one is to drink a 12 ounce glass of cold water and avoid eating anything for at least 30 minutes. That will give you time to deal with the problem and break down the need for instant gratification.
  • Use the escape route. When thoughts of food are distracting you, let your mind take a rest and put your body to work instead. Go for a short, brisk walk or get up and do some jumping jacks or find a stairwell and make a few trips up and down to provide a physical release for your pent-up frustrations. Getting away from the situation for a few minutes can’t hurt, and the activity just might help to clear your mind so you can see your way to a solution a little faster.
  • Reach for a lifeline. Sometimes our problems are just too big to handle on our own, especially when facing unrealistic expectations imposed by yourself or others. Knowing when it’s time to reach out for help can save both time and unnecessary stress. Focus on getting the job done using whatever resources you can rather than trying to go it alone.
  • Fortify your fortress. Keeping tempting foods out of sight can certainly make it easier to stay on task, but that doesn’t mean you can never eat something sweet. That’s where low calorie sweeteners, like SPLENDA®No Calorie Sweetener, can come in handy. Using a low calorie sweetener instead of sugar makes it possible to satisfy your sweet tooth with fewer calories as a regular part of your meal plan. Whether used in a cup of your favorite herbal tea, to flavor a Sweet and Spicy Snack Mix or make a batch of Deep Chocolate Shortbread to stash in the freezer, you can enjoy a sweet treat just because it tastes good, not because it helps you cope!

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

 

Abuse of the word addiction may explain why some people believe they have food addiction

Popular Diet News: Do You Have a Food Addiction?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

ABUSE OF THE WORD ADDICTION MAY EXPLAIN WHY SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE THEY HAVE FOOD ADDICTION

When I saw the advertisement for a shampoo that said you would become “addicted” to it because it made your hair so silky, I knew things had gone too far. Can we really become addicted to shampoo? What about food addictions and addictions to texting, tanning, video games, the Internet, cosmetic surgery, shoes? If you believe the latest headlines, those things all have the power to turn us into addicts.

While I doubt that using the same shampoo everyday can do any harm, abuse of the term addiction can.

In my 30+ years in practice as a Registered Dietitian I’ve had many clients tell me they believed they were addicted to certain foods. Those foods were the same ones everyone else ate, but somehow they got hooked. These people couldn’t just eat a normal portion. They obsessed over the food, kept secret stashes of it and felt guilty after eating it, usually in large quantities.

The one thing these people all had in common was a feeling of helplessness once they labeled their problem an addiction. I often wondered how they would fare if they simply said they really “liked” the food?

Finding Another Word for Addiction

There is little agreement in the medical community about whether you can actually have a food addiction. When you compare it to an addiction to heroin, it seems trivial to even ask. But as in the example of the shampoo ad, I think the real problem is that the word addiction is being used too casually.

What people mean when they say they are addicted to chocolate, potato chips or pizza is that it tastes really good to them and when they eat it they want to eat more of it. That is not evidence of an addiction. If you eat more chocolate than you should, that may be a sign of emotional eating or compulsive overeating or a problem with impulse control. Or it may be nothing more than a craving.

The definition of addiction used by the American Society of Addiction Medicine states it is a chronic disease with biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. There are a lot of chocolate lovers in the world, but they don’t all have a chronic disease. In fact, when it comes to so called food addictions, it’s interesting to note that only some people are affected. There are significant gender and cultural differences in what becomes an addictive food. That is not the case with alcohol, nicotine or opium.

I understand that it is very difficult for some people to control their consumption of certain foods. Their genes, brain chemistry, and personality may predispose them to becoming dependent on certain substances or behaviors. But when it comes to food, it just may be a question of too much of a good thing.

If you think you are addicted to a food, try to reframe the way you think about it, starting with the language you use. You’ll enjoy that chocolate much more if you focus on how much you love the taste while eating it, rather than fearing you won’t be able to stop eating it because you’re addicted to it.

If someone offered you a million dollars to never eat your “favorite” food again, could you do it?

Signs of an eating disorder need to be evaluated regardless of age

Eating Disorder in Midlife Often Overlooked

SIGNS OF AN EATING DISORDER NEED TO BE EVALUATED REGARDLESS OF AGE

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

The recent sudden death of a 65 year old woman I know made me wonder if she wasn’t one of those women who struggled with an undetected eating disorder in the final two decades of her life. She had become “painfully thin” and looked so frail I couldn’t imagine how she stood up on her own. When I saw her at social gatherings, she never had a plate of food. And although she had some medical problems, her death came as a shock to everyone who knew her.

There’s plenty of evidence to show women do not stop caring about their weight as they age. How they deal with it separates the perpetual dieters from those with anorexia, bulimia or other disordered eating. Unfortunately, the societal pressures on women to be thin have become so persistent that women over 40 are just as likely to have eating disorders as those under 40.

The appearance of an eating disorder in an older woman is often the resurfacing of a problem that started in her youth. Anyone who learned at a young age to cope with stress by controlling her appetite is susceptible to resuming those coping mechanisms when life gets difficult. For women over 40, the trigger may be a trauma, such as the end of a marriage, loss of a loved one, or onset of menopause.

But even a woman who never dieted in her 20s can resort to unhealthy food restriction in her 50s when she realizes her tummy is not flat as it used to be. A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders in June 2012 found 62% of women age 50 and older said their weight negatively impacted their lives.

The danger for older women is that they are not as readily diagnosed as young girls. Changes in the eating habits of a teenager are noticed by her parents, as is a sudden drop in weight or the absence of menstruation. Since weight loss and a diminished appetite are common side effects of many illnesses and medications, they are not as surprising when seen in an older woman.

Yet the health risks of eating disorders are just as great for older women as young. The heart muscle is weakened, cognitive function declines and bone loss accelerates. If left untreated it can lead to organ failure and death. The goal is to get treated before these problems begin.

Signs of Possible Eating Disorder

  • Excessive concern with dieting and losing weight
  • Dissatisfaction with body weight, shape, size
  • Weighing oneself more than once a day
  • Denial of hunger
  • Excessive or compulsive exercise
  • Self-induced vomiting after eating
  • Binge-eating followed by guilt, shame, regret
  • Use of laxatives, diuretics or diet pills without medical supervision

Even though eating disorders look like food issues on the outside, they are rooted in unresolved psychological issues. The American Journal of Psychiatry reports almost 50% of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression. Focusing on how much you weigh can be much easier than dealing with low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness.

It is important to remember that the behavior of someone with an eating disorder is an expression of their pain. They do not need to be told to eat more or exercise less. What they need is recognition of their pain, and an offer of help to get some relief.

Do you recognize the signs of an eating disorder in anyone you know?

Care packages from home can contribute to college weight gain

Tips to Prevent College Weight Gain

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

CARE PACKAGES FROM HOME CAN CONTRIBUTE TO COLLEGE WEIGHT GAIN

Now that everything has been purchased and packed to send your recent high school graduate off to college, what’s left to do? For many parents and grandparents, it’s time to start worrying about the notorious freshman 15.

College weight gain is a bigger concern today than ever before because so many more young people are arriving on campus overweight. Packing on five or ten pounds between now and winter break and another five or more by the time they move back home in the spring can saddle them with excess weight they may never lose.

The health risks of starting adulthood overweight should not be ignored. As anyone who has tried to lose 15 pounds – and keep it off – knows, it’s not easy. Taking steps to prevent gaining those unwanted pounds in the first place is far easier.

As the author of Fighting the Freshman Fifteen, I can show you how you can help your college student do just that.

What Causes College Weight Gain?

Life on campus is filled with opportunities to eat, drink, and party too much. The rest of the time is often spent sleeping, sitting in classes (sometimes both at the same time) and studying. That combination of overconsumption and under activity is all it takes for some kids to gain a pound a week, which happens to add up to 15 pounds at the end of the first semester.

Yes, the school has a state-of-the-art fitness center, a campus that stretches over several acres or city blocks, and round-the-clock recreational activities. But somehow all of that opportunity to burn calories is underutilized. It’s sort of like all the home exercise equipment and gym memberships that go unused.

Another source of unneeded calories are those care packages that come in the mail filled with all their favorite foods. Bags of Twizzlers, boxes of Cheez-Its, and tins of homemade chocolate chip cookies arrive one day and are gone the next.

Repackaging those care packages from home can eliminate the temptation, and extra pounds that go with them. Try some of these instead.

Care Packages That Prevent College Weight Gain

Hair Care

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Gel or Mouse
  • Spray or Spritz

Dental Care

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Mouthwash

Laundry Care

  • Detergent
  • Bleach
  • Dryer sheets
  • Stain remover

Body Care

  • Bar soap
  • Shower gel
  • Bath powder
  • Deodorant
  • Body lotion

Appliance Care

  • Printer cartridges
  • Computer paper
  • Batteries
  • Gift cards for apps

And whatever you do, don’t keep reminding them of what it was like when you were in college!

Weight management is about moderation, not elimination

THE REDEMPTION DIET

This post was written as a guest blog for TheSkinnyOnLowCal.org on May 23, 2014. You can read the original post here.

The last thing we need in this world is another fad diet, but I must confess I did coin “The Redemption Diet.” To be perfectly clear, I did not invent this diet, I just named it after seeing it practiced by so many people and not knowing what else to call it.

What is The Redemption Diet?

A person wants to lose weight or improve their health, but isn’t ready to make all of the changes needed to establish better eating habits. Instead, they decide to eliminate a single food, beverage or ingredient from their diet as a sign of their commitment to self-improvement. To be worthy of redemption, they must first decide that something they now eat is evil or bad for them – maybe chocolate, French fries or diet soda. By avoiding the temptation of that food, they rationalize they will be “saved.” That’s the basic premise behind The Redemption Diet.

If this sounds familiar, then you know how the story ends.

Giving up something you love is hard to do, so most people don’t last very long on The Redemption Diet. More importantly, if that something is a food or drink that is perfectly safe, readily available, and highly enjoyable, why bother? This is especially true for diet soda, which has no calories, making it even harder to imagine why anyone would think giving it up will help them lose weight.

I have seen numerous accounts of people who have waged a personal battle with diet soda in the belief they would be a better person if they stopped drinking it. They tweet and blog about their struggle living without their favorite diet drink and count the number of days they’ve been “abstinent” with misplaced pride.

I am always left thinking they were looking for a way to punish themselves by taking away something they really enjoy in life. If I’m right, then The Redemption Diet is a sign of another problem. I also can’t help but wonder how much they were drinking in the first place, because if they felt they were drinking too much, that is more easily dealt with by moving toward moderation, not elimination. In fact, if you want to know how much low calorie sweetener is in your diet soda and how much is right for you, just can check here.

Bottom line on The Redemption Diet?

Fad diets and food elimination don’t work as a weight management strategy. Learning to balance the calories in all of your food and beverage choices with enough physical activity do.

Registered dietitian and nutrition expert Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN has more than 30 years of experience counseling patients and teaching at the university level. She is also the author of two books on nutrition. Follow her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her other posts here.

stressed out college student cramming for final exams

How to Help With Stress in College Students

This post was written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original post here.

END OF TERM STRESS IN COLLEGE STUDENTS CAN RESULT IN UNHEALTHY BEHAVIORS

The next two weeks are the most difficult time of year for college students. The end-of-semester demands they face are unrealistic and can lead to unbearable pressure. How our children cope with stress in college can have a devastating impact on both their physical and emotional health.

For those of us who can say “been there, done that,” it is not a rite of passage we would wish on anyone — especially our own children.

Stress in College Students

An estimated 15 percent of the 20 million young people attending college in the U.S. are diagnosed with depression. Those who do not have a clinical diagnosis of depression still experience stress and may suffer in silence or resort to inappropriate behavior.

The biggest risk is the threat of suicide.

A recent study reveals half of all college students have had suicidal thoughts. Tragically, 1500 of them are successful each year, according to Dr. Victor Schwartz, a psychiatrist and medical director of The Jed Foundation. The mission of this non-profit organization is to “promote emotional health and prevent suicide among college and university students.”

Here is just a partial list of what college students face this time of year.

End of Semester Stressors

  • Cramming for finals
  • Writing term papers
  • Completing projects
  • Making presentations
  • Studying for Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
  • Applying for Internships
  • Preparing resumes
  • Scheduling job interviews
  • Packing up and moving out

Any one of these “added demands” is reason enough to need help with stress. The year-end stress for college students is heaped on top of their on-gong concerns about paying off loans, changing roommates, declaring a major, traveling abroad, finding off-campus housing, dealing with relationships, and so much more

When forced to try to deal with it all, students may “self-medicate” as the pressure builds.

Inappropriate Coping Strategies

  • Depression – abuses of “uppers,” such as speed, cocaine, crack, Ecstasy
  • Anxiety – abuse of “downers,” such as marijuana, hash, codeine, heroin
  • Rage or Anger – abuse of alcohol in the form of binge drinking
  • Sleep deprivation – abuse of caffeine from energy drinks, pills, espresso and coffee drinks
  • Meal skipping – over-eating high foods high in fat, salt and sugar
  • Dehydration – inappropriate use of medications for headaches, dizziness, lethargy

The American Psychological Association provides an online tool to test your knowledge about stress. Telling your child about it may be a good way to help him or her recognize what is happening and encourage them to take advantage of campus support services.

Unfortunately, stress doesn’t end after graduation. Learning how to cope with it while in college is a life skill that will pay off for your child no matter what career he or she pursues.

And for your high school graduate who may be starting college in the fall, check out my Tips to Prevent College Weight Gain adapted from my book, Fighting the Freshman Fifteen.

Two new anti-obesity drugs have been approved this summer giving consumers more help with weight loss

3 Anti-Obesity Drugs Now Available in U.S.

This post was written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original post here.

TWO NEW ANTI-OBESITY DRUGS HAVE BEEN APPROVED THIS SUMMER GIVING CONSUMERS MORE HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS

After 13 years with only one Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved pill for weight loss available in the U.S., the agency added two more anti-obesity drugs to the arsenal in the past 30 days. Qsymia is the latest.

I covered the Belviq when it was approved last month. Before that, Xenical was the only option. It received FDA approval in 1999, then became available in a lower dose as the over-the-counter drug Alli in 2007.

What does this recent flurry of activity in the world of anti-obesity drugs mean?

To the 68 percent of American adults who are either overweight or obese (that’s more than 23 million people) it means hope. Hope that one of these drugs will help them win the battle they fight every day with overeating. They still have to learn to make better food choices and be more physically active – no pill can replace that – but maybe, just maybe, one of these prescriptions will make it easier.

Obesity is a complex disease with multiple causes. No single treatment will work for everyone. Since each of these drugs functions in a different way, one could be better for you than another.

If you tried weight loss pills in the past and didn’t get the results you expected, you may want to try again. If you’ve been afraid to try them before, keep an open mind. It’s a hard battle to win alone.

FAQ About the Anti-Obesity Drugs

How do they work?

  • Some have a single mode of action, others have a combination of effects. They may:
  • Suppress appetite
  • Increase metabolism
  • Block absorption
  • Increase satiety
  • Stimulate alertness

How much weight can I lose?

FDA approval is based on studies that show weight loss is greater using the drug than can be achieved from just diet and exercise alone. Weight loss varies for each drug and with one’s ability to comply with the diet and exercise recommendations, but range from 5-10 percent.

How long must I take them?

Each of the available drugs must be taken daily to maintain results. They are not a cure, but a treatment that must be continued for the rest of one’s life.

Do they have side effects?

As with most drugs there are risks associated with their use, but when taken as recommended the benefits are expected to outweigh any risks for most people.

Can anyone take them?

Most are approved for adults only. Some are restricted if pregnant, when taking certain medications or if suffering from other conditions. These concerns must be discussed with your physician.

Some related blogs:

  • My post on last month’s anti-obesity drug: New Weight Loss Drug Wins FDA Approval
  • Some thoughts on what obesity is not: Reflections on Obesity and the Weight of the Nation
  • Why obesity isn’t our biggest problem: Metabolic Syndrome is Worse than Obesity